At lunch earlier this week, one of my colleagues told us about a turntable he’s finally installed in his new house. Turntables, or “phonographs” if you will, and LP records are becoming increasingly popular again and maybe I’ll get myself one some day, too. To me, the technology used in turntables is absolutely amazing, the pickup in particular: It bumps around on the record and sound is coming out of the loudspeakers. CDs I get; it’s essentially just a computer reading a digital file off of the CD. Easy as pie, probably because my mindset is focused on digital technology.
Analogue technologies, however, I can’t wrap my head around. Take loudspeakers, for instance. They can create every sound audible to man just by changing the voltage of an electromagnet that in turn move a diaphragm back and forth. How is it possible to know exactly how much power is necessary to create the sound of Frank Sinatra singing “Come Fly With Me”? I’m pretty sure this is alien technology!
We all agreed that loudspeakers are amazing stuff. But right up there with loudspeakers is another piece of technological mind fuck I find simply baffling. The others didn’t agree with me, though, but maybe you will.
I think my explanation of this is quite bad, but please bear with me. Let’s say you have a computer program that creates a white gird; a completely white image. Then it gradually fills the image with black pixels such that when the image has turned completely black, the computer program has created an image for every possible combination of black and white pixels. If you have saved every single one, you have pictures of everything that has ever happened in the past and everything that will ever happen in the future.
Every single thing. The big bang, the fall of man, every book ever written, the cure for every disease that will ever exist, every movie ever made, the secret to time travel and your entire life from life to death. You’ll also have pictures of thing that couldn’t possibly happen, like Obama riding across the Saharan dessert on a unicorn while enjoying a sundae. Stuff like that.
Unfortunately, as with most things amazing on this level, it’s only theoretically possible to do it. You’ll need a massive amount of computer power and storage space and a lot of time on your hands. Also, you need someone to filter through the images created to find the interesting stuff, a job probably best outsourced to India.
Let’s do a little math. To be able to calculate anything, we limit the size of the image to 32 x 32 pixels. With an image that size you wouldn’t be able to see much, but it’s better than nothing. Also, my math is somewhat rusty, so there might be an error or two hidden in plain sight. Please correct me if I’m wrong.
A 32 x 32 pixel pictures will yield a massive 2^(32×32) = 1,80 * 10^308 possible combinations. To put things into perspective, a million is 10^6. If you had the computer power to generate a million images per second, you’d only use a little over one hour (2^32 / 1000000 / 60 / 60 = 1,2 hours) to create all combinations of the first row of pixels. The second row, though, will take about 584942 years (2^(32*2) / 60 / 60 / 24 / 365 = 584942,4 years) to generate and from there on the number just skyrockets.
So, it’s easy to see that creating an image of everything ever is not practically feasible. But if you sit down and think about the concept, I’d say it’s pretty mind-blowing.